I know – or I’m fairly sure, and that’s as close to ‘know’ as the circuitry of being modern and home-seeking and confused by freedom allows – that there are people out beyond my ken who receive, and sometimes read, and sometimes consider these things I compose and send. I know there’s a daily avalanche of things to consider that compete for your give a shit. Here’s one more.
I did an interview the other day in which the host opined that perhaps the whole of my life’s work came down to an attempt to make the case on behalf of an ordinary life. Generally I’m not compelled by these kinds of reductions, but that one stopped me. I hadn’t seen myself in those terms before, but something about the observation was instantly recognizable to me. If I didn’t thank her for it then, I’m doing so now.
There’s the first half of your life, which you limp through, burn through, tear through, make it through. That’s where you’re obliged to carry yourself as someone born to purpose and necessity. Your ordinary life begins to take shape. You’re left to stagger to that conclusion on you own, mind you, to the idea that there is genuine merit in an ordinary life, parsing through the vaguest of evidence that that’s so. Notoriety, fame, infamy, hits: no purpose there.
Nobody from central command sends you a memo informing you that the first half of your life is done. Most of the compelling evidence – slowing of the gait, hesitation climbing ladders, the vague sense that you’ve probably seen more of life by now than you’re going to see, the ‘failure of the instruments’, as aging was called in Victorian times – seems temporary and unspectacular and unpersuasive. That’s where you’re obliged to take whatever the reasons for your birth and persistence here among us might be, whatever you’ve done with that notion, however successful you’ve been in sussing it out, and set about finding and deciding with whom you are to live those reasons out, who your people might be after all. That’s where the meaning comes from. That, it seems to me now, is what ‘planting a life in life’ might look like. It’s not a question of romance any more. It’s a question of belonging. It’s a village-minded question.
Off and on since 2015 Gregory Hoskins and I have toured a few parts of the world with a genre-bending travelling road show we’ve called Nights of Grief and Mystery. Organizationally and financially it’s been a stagger since the beginning and, despite some remarkable successes and beautiful responses, it remains so. Every time out we build a mountain, climb a mountain, report on the view from there, climb back down, disassemble the mountain, do it again. There’s just no market momentum to the thing. Every tour is like inventing another language, with a new set of local translators. We’ve made three records, another’s almost done, we’ve made a documentary film and been featured in another, played hundreds of shows, and still …
I realize now that, along with the Orphan Wisdom School, NOGAM is where I’ve tried to locate my life’s second half, the work of making something like a people I might yet belong to. Hoskins is my brother in this, brother in the artistry of it, the choreography, the sound and the shape. He’s the project’s midwife. He understands it all. But you, you’re the ground of it, the village of it. He and I both know that. We need your help to get there, to get to the ground of it all, to help gather the people, to help build the mountain.
We’re a couple of weeks away now from going out into the storm of imprecision and fracture, the tempest of plague hangover and remarkably hard times and people wondering if anything matters. We don’t know if there’s an appetite for anything with ‘grief’ in the title anymore, let alone ‘mystery’. Maybe it’s too much like daily life now. Maybe grief’s ordinary now.
But we just played Tel Aviv, a place with a lot of time-in with grief and with mystery. Guns n’ Roses were playing the same night. The people could have gone to the stadium. But they came to a punk club by the highway on a dead end road on a sweaty night, to something called Nights of Grief and Mystery, that was in another language. In case something happened. In case we knew what we were doing. They pleaded with us to keep going.
And so we’re headed across America and Canada and a bit of England, and Scandinavia, Australia ,New Zealand, and Tasmania, a new record under our arm, a record about love, to go with the grief and the mystery. We’re coming for a few hours of communion with the saints, and with the Ancients of Days. And with you.